I've heard this question a lot, so I decided to give it some serious thought. Sometimes I feel like every good idea in the world is buried deep in the ground. Writers have to play archeologist, dig carefully, uncover the idea without leaving a piece behind. Other times I think maybe these characters are alive in another universe. They reach out to us by telepathy, tell us their stories. But when I'm not being whimsical my answer to this question would simply be this: I get my ideas from questions.
You heard me right. Questions. They come from questions that I ask myself or questions I hear other people asking. I remember once in college when an idea for a book started with a question. A young man came into the classroom a few minutes before it was to begin and did a double-take. He asked me, "Didn't I just pass you in the hallway going the other direction?"
Normally this question wouldn't have sparked my imagination, but he wasn't the first to mistake someone else for me. A few days earlier two friends had insisted they'd seen me in the parking lot, had yelled at me and waved, but I'd ignored them. At the time of this incident I'd been in town shopping. Then about a week later while visiting my grandparents, my cousin told me he'd just seen me a few streets over wearing different clothes.
Several different scenarios went around in my head, each one more delicious than the last. Was someone purposely pretending to be me? Did I have a missing twin no one had told me about? Was it a spy? An alien? A ghost?
Sometimes while watching my favorite tv show or a movie I will start asking myself questions. What if the hero had done this instead of that? What if the bad guy had gotten away? You get the idea. These little questions start my brain's creative juices.
I don't know about you, but my ideas mainly come from questions.